The COVID-19 pandemic hit businesses large and small hard right across Australia.

Pubs were forced to close, restaurants and cafes were not allowed to have people inside, customer numbers were severely limited in shops, weddings, funerals and social events of all kinds were only allowed with a handful of participants.

But few businesses were hit as hard and so dramatically as the travel industry.

“Travel just stopped suddenly and completely,” said proprietor of Helloworld travel agency in Narrabri, Jenny Cable.

“We went from busy to zero.”

There was no reduced trickle of retail customers through the door who could still spend, or the opportunity to refocus the business on take away food or packaged drinks like restaurants, cafes and hotels.

“The travel agency side of the business abruptly ceased, 100 per cent, full stop,” said Mrs Cable.

“There were no domestic flights, no international flights, nothing but train.

“Business travel to Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, everywhere, just stopped.

“Since then, our business has been one of refunds, reversing bookings, cancellations.

“We were at work, but all we were doing was refunding tickets,” said Mrs Cable.

“We do travel bookings 12 months ahead.

“Events that people had booked well into the future were cancelled, so we had to undo everything done a year or more ago.”

There were complexities around the cancellations.

Travel agencies had to wait for airlines to cancel flights first, for passengers who had booked to receive a credit or a refund, depending on which airline they booked their flight on.

“Cruise ship bookings stopped and are currently suspended until mid September,” said Mrs Cable.

“Passengers couldn’t take a flight out of Australia.”

Limited domestic flights have returned, and train travel has resumed with social distancing.

“It gets really exciting if someone books a plane seat,” said Mrs Cable.

“One day last week we received three plane bookings.”

Narrabri’s air service, Fly Corporate, is operating two flights a week with restricted seating. Business travel hasn’t yet got back into full swing.

The road freight business, ‘the bitumen Boeing’, has continued, however.

Meanwhile, it is ‘fingers crossed’ that there will be further relaxation on domestic travel restrictions.

But there are so many unknowns with warnings of the dangers of a ‘second wave’ if the community lets its guard down.

“It could all happen again,” said Mrs Cable.

Meanwhile, some Australian and overseas authorities have suggested there will be no international travel until mid 2021.

Helloworld proprietors Jim and Jenny Cable, like every business operator, are resigned to waiting it out to see how events outside their control unfold.

No-one knows what’s ahead.

The business shutdown is unprecedented, but Helloworld is open and will still be here when normality returns.

The Cables have owned the business since 1984.

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